As we prepare for the upcoming 12-Day Summer Intensive, we at the centre have begun to reflect on all the past intensives in their various incarnations. Reminisce with us. Below is a slideshow of photos from intensives over the years, followed by a blog post from Day 19 of the 2010 One-month Intensive (originally posted here).
Kindness is the New Black Dress
The inhale never happens the same way twice. How can we continue to follow the breath, to follow the pulse of what it means to be alive? If the ground is groundless because our experience is always shifting, how can we walk on it?
I hope that everything that needed to arise in your hearts has come in a peaceful way. Sometimes it’s nice not to have too much shifting, some of you have experienced large shifts, others smaller shifts. But whatever your experience, practice softens us, it teaches us not to be too hard to others or to ourselves. Kindness is the new cool, the new black dress.
Freedom means trusting yourself to know what nourishes you.
To come down to the end of the exhale means knowing what it’s like to have something spread and lift at the same time. To be lifted up by something, at the same time that you’re expanding through your roots. The mula bhanda is the base, the ground. When you go deep into your exhale you hit a ground, and that ground has no base. This baseless ground is the basis of love and interconnection. Because it has nothing in it, it’s everything.
Ikkyu: “Only one koan really matters, you.”
Trudy Goodman, a senior vipassana teacher in Los Angeles, was once assigned the task of driving a famous Zen teacher from the airport to the retreat centre. She decided to ask him the question: “What is the final koan? (Koans are practiced in sequence) He was silent. Then he said, “I can’t tell you the last koan, but I can tell you the answer. The answer is love.”
Is practice a skill, or a set of skills? Perhaps that’s not a useful way of thinking about practice, because having a skill implies a direction and destination. Practice is a way, a road, but there’s no telling in advance, no way of mapping out, where the path will lead us. How are we going to serve in the future? One of the things we need to know is what nourishes us. For me, it’s the poetry of Philip Whalen. If I don’t read Philip Whalen each week, I get carried away into the conveyor belt of this culture.
Our practices should look different, just as our lives should look different. The practice is nestled into our lives, and makes us live in different ways. What kind of community would this be if we started looking like each other? The path belongs to you, in an entirely singular way, and encourages you to celebrate your singularity, but at the same time it isn’t yours. The path is not yours. “Practice is none of your business.” Who said that? Many Buddha ancestors have walked this same path. Even though Rumi never walked down Ontario Street, it the same path. But at the same time, we don’t want our lives to look like Rumi’s life, we want it to look like Sam, Ronit, Jennifer…
When I look around the faces of this room, there’s no one else I would rather have accompanying me on this road. This feeling is samadhi, when experience becomes connective tissue. Everything is tissue.
This Is How We Love Each Other
Line 20 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra reads:
sraddha (faith) virya (energy/strength) smrti (memory) samadhirpajna (integration) purvaka (something preceded by)
Continuity of practice. This is how we love each other. We fail again and again because we can’t love each other unconditionally. We slip, we fall back and forget. But because of our practice, we’re not hard on ourselves. We fail, and our failures are ok. They can also be embraced with space and curiosity.
When difficult feelings surface perhaps you can begin to trust that your practice can take care of what is arising, of what is happening in your life. This faith (sraddha) gives you enthusiasm for this practice, though too much enthusiasm is not the best quality either. You know how you go to parties sometimes and there’s someone demonstrating yoga poses? You don’t need to become that person. Or there’s the person who comes to the sit for the first time, and the next week they arrive with their family in tow.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village is a retreat destination each year for a particular couple, though the woman is not keen to go. The husband says to Thich Nhat Hanh, “My wife doesn’t like being here.” He replies, “I can tell.” The husband continues, “She just wants to be on a beach for her vacation.” Thich Nhat Hanh replies, “I think you should go to the beach.”
When there’s energy and enthusiasm (virya) in your practice you can practice smrti (memory) – to remember what’s important. And together energy, enthusiasm and memory give rise to samadhi: the connective tissue of integration. These five movements are circular. All of this you can watch through your breathing, and through your relations with others.
Every breath you take is your path, and every step. While walking each step leaves home, it lifts from the ground, from a sense of being grounded, and then it arrives home again. The breath is also like this. You have to leave home, in order to find home. Home can’t be separated from this moment, from who you are.
In India, one of the holiest gestures is to take water from the Ganges, in an act that recognizes this separation, then pours the water back again. Crying is like this. Your tears fall from your individual griefs, but it comes from the grief we all have, of living in these frail, impermanent bodies. Of watching our friends die. Our friends are the Ganges and in their death we draw them up out of the river, and let them mark us, before we put them back into the river again. Your tears flow down every drain, into the St. Lawrence River, back into the ocean and the mouth of a whale. They belong to everyone.
(Dharma drawing by Allen Ginsberg, 1998.)